What is proselytism and what does the Bible say on this subject?

The definition:
The online Word Web dictionary gives the following definition of the word Proselytism:

Proselytism – comes from the Greek language and means:

The tendency to convert people to a different opinion, usually a different religion. The New Testament usually refers to someone who converted to Judaism. Initially, proselytism was related to Christianity, but it is also used in other religions; trying to convert someone from their faith or even trying to convince people of their opinions, religious or not. 

The legal framework:

The International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, in Article 18, states:

  1. Everyone must have freedom of conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to hold and adopt a religion or belief in personal choice and freedom [„¦].
  2. A person’s freedom to manifest his religion or belief may be subjective only within the limits set by state law and which are necessary to protect the public, order, health, morals, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.

Constitution of the Republic of Moldova

Article 31 (Freedom of Conscience)

  1. Freedom of conscience shall be guaranteed. It must be manifested in a spirit of tolerance and mutual respect.

(2) Religious cults are free and are organized according to their own statutes, in accordance with the law

(3) In the relations between religious cults, any manifestations of enmity are forbidden.

Article 32 (freedom of opinion and expression)

  1. Every citizen is guaranteed the freedom of thought, opinion and freedom of expression in public by word, image or other possible means.
  2. Freedom of expression may not prejudice the honor, dignity or the right of another person to his own vision.

Both the International Convention on Human Rights and the Constitution of the Republic of Moldova, we do not see speaking out against Proselytism, as long as it does not go against the laws of the State. The constitution of our state guarantees the freedom of opinion as well as the freedom of expression in public by word, image or by any other possible means, however all these taken together are not allowed to provoke enmity between cults.

Before drawing any conclusions, I would also like to look at what God’s Law says on this subject.

What does the Bible say?

In the Romanian Bible the word proselyte or convert is found only 3 times and all these mentions are found in the book of Acts. It should be noted that in the original, the word is encountered several times.

The first mention is found in chapter 2:

”They were astounded, and in amazement they asked, “Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans? Then how does each of us hear them in his own native language? We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs, yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.” (Acts 2:7-11 NASB)

Among all the guests who came to Jerusalem, on the day of Pentecost, in this category of people, we also find the proselytes, placed with the Jews. Here we see that proselytism initially was not related to Christianity (as some dictionaries or comments show) but appeared much earlier. The book of Acts in chapter 2 describes the day of Pentecost, the descent of the Holy Spirit, and in fact with the descent of the Holy Spirit, it was the beginning of the Christian Church. But we see, even on the same day, so-called proselytes or converts were already present there. Who were they? The Bible Dictionary gives us the following definition of the word: 

4339 proselyte {pros-ș’-loo-to: Newcomer, a stranger, a proselyte, one of the Gentiles who converted to Judaism. 

The proselyte was a foreigner, a Gentile who converted to Judaism. In fact, the Rabbis divided the proselytes into two categories. The righteous proselytes who received circumcision and undertook to keep the whole Mosaic law; and the proselytes who dwelt among the Jews, were not circumcised, but kept only a few of the laws.

The Gospel of Mark 23:15 says:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You traverse the sea and land to make one convert, and when that happens you make him a child of Gehenna twice as much as yourselves.”

In the original, instead of the phrase “Comrade of Faith” as we see in the Romanian Bible, the word proselytizing {pros-ș’-loo-to) is used for Pharisees and Scribes who were of the Jewish religion. The Bible says that they traverse the sea and the land (in a metaphorical sense) to proselytize someone to their faith. So once again we see that in the holy Scriptures, when we speak of the proselyte, we are referring to someone who was among the Gentiles and converted to Judaism. 


“Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task, whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” The proposal was acceptable to the whole community, so they chose Stephen, a man filled with faith and the holy Spirit, also Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas of Antioch, a convert to Judaism. (Acts 6:3-5 NASB)

Among the 7 reputable men who were chosen to serve tables, we see Nicholas of Antioch, who was of the Gentiles, who had once converted to Judaism. But now, when he believed wholeheartedly in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Bible says that he, along with the 6, was reputable, filled with the Spirit and wisdom. 

So whoever is in Christ is a new creation. (2 Corinthians 5:17 NASB)

To be continued. 

Translated by Liza Bîrlădeanu